Transvestite chic revives fishnet and lurex clichés

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The Independent Online

"To an outsider, it seems like it doesn't matter to a transvestite if they fail to look truly glamorous or like a woman at all. I find this acceptance of our failure to change ourselves through fashion, yet still with a certain persistence in trying, very interesting." So said Swedish-born designer Ann-Sofie Back of her debut London Fashion Week collection shown in Ladbroke Grove yesterday, immediately establishing herself as a name likely to be associated with the industry's more cerebral side.

Her clothes only add to this impression. Back took the clichés of the cross-dressing uniform - fishnet, lurex and wigs - and fused them with the slightly warped, proudly acrylic take on glamour which she has made all her own. And so, a purple, string vest was worn over a peach, crushed-velvet skirt suit, a fawn blouse and slacks combination came complete with oversized brass buttons. And lavish blonde chest hair made a bizarre appearance - vacuum-packed under a body stocking.

Although it is Back's first season here, she is no newcomer to fashion. By London collections standards, she's an old hand. Since graduating from Central Saint Martins five years ago, she has worked as a designer and stylist, contributing to many of fashion's most respected titles including Dazed & Confused, Self Service and Purple and establishing herself as a pioneer of appealing if deliberately awkward looks. She once made a feature of that hoary old fashion faux pas, the visible panty line. "It's about trying and failing," she has said of her aesthetic. "You always look sort of rubbish."

This is a highly idiosyncratic stance and that, at its best, is what the London collections should be about. The British fashion capital may not have the marketing potential of Milan or New York, or the sophistication of Paris, but it does embrace young talent. If this sounds indulgent, it's worth noting that the new breed of young designers are far more cautious than their pyrotechnic predecessors, more likely to be found working quietly at establishing their businesses than investing every penny in six-monthly fashion whimsy extravaganzas.

With this in mind, Boudicca - the label presided over by Brian Kirkby and Zowie Broach - closed the weekend's proceedings. Formerly perceived as so far out on the cutting edge and unwilling to compromise they might never make it, they are today backed by one of the world's largest corporations - American Express - which also took a chance with a young Alexander McQueen.

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